Would that it were only the fact that the Mass was entirely disrupted, turning away from God and to His creatures. If only it were no more than the total loss of the language that formed the foundation of our culture. It is the stuff of fantasy to pretend that nothing more occurred than granting wholesale license to everyone in the building - priest, layman, and unbeliever - to stride through the sanctuary of God without so much as an acknowledgement of His Presence. And for those approaching Most Holy Communion, saint or recalcitrant heretic or unrepentant sinner or confirmed apostate or apathetic agnostic, a wanton familiarity allows the handling, the dropping, and the defiling of our Lord in the Precious Sacrament of the Altar. It is an altar no more, a sacrifice no more, and, dare I say it, a Mass no more.
All of this is the worst, but alas! it is not all…
Much wringing of the hands accompanies the lamentations over the loss of the immemorial rite and the imposition of the Novus Ordo Missae. Not enough heed has been paid as to why the Novus Ordo was found offensive by so few, uncriticized by so many, and accepted by almost all of the hierarchy. This writer is not competent to address this last point, and shall restrict himself to examining the context by which the Novus Ordo Missae is either held suspect as a capitulation to the world; or embraced as an understandable acknowledgement that the ways of the world change, are not all bad, and are legitimate for use in the faith.
Theology, philosophy, economics, politics, and psychology comprise the dynamic in which the Novus Ordo Missae is rejected or accepted. In either its rejection or acceptance, the Novus Ordo Missae is not the intended end, but the central and most visible manifestation of an understanding of the universe. Whether lauded or loathed, the Novus Ordo Missae is at the heart of a battle about the Catholic Church's response to the Novus Ordo Seclorum (note the back of a dollar bill).
As we begin, it is only fair that this writer express his own position: modernism is a diabolic poison man has agreed to take to his own destruction, though deluding himself that therein he can find salvation and divinization. The syringe by which the poison is delivered is the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, wherein the tools and mechanisms of man's salvation are turned to his destruction. The hypodermic needle by which the Body of Christ is pierced to receive this poison is the Novus Ordo Missae.
If one has a perspective counter to this writer's, you see modernity as a breath of fresh air, a tonic, a medicine prescribed for man's fulfillment. The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican is the divinely sanctioned instrument by which deliverance is brought to an ailing Body of Christ. The Novus Ordo Missae is, then, the mode of reception of a new grace, a new theology, and a new understanding of Church at the service of the world.
One or the other of these positions must be true. They can not both be true, they can not co-exist, they can not be reconciled. Either the Novus Ordo Missae is an objective good and must be embraced by all, superceding the ancient rites and doctrines of the Church; or the immemorial Deposit of the Faith must be proclaimed with and through the ancient rites, consigning the postconciliar experimentation to the dustbin of history.
The Vatican II revolutionaries understand this, as is evidenced by every curial statement, episcopal pronouncement, and parochial liturgical innovation that continue to be foisted upon the ever dwindling numbers attending the new Mass. Adherents to the traditional Mass are slower in the uptake, less inclined to apply the critique so often given the new theology to the age-old habits of man wedded to sin, ruled by appetite, and fond of wishful thinking. The revolutionaries know that everything has changed; it is the goal of these reflections to demonstrate that everything is not limited to the Mass, but includes the entirety of man's activities on earth, heart, mind, soul, and strength.
II. The Dying of Sacrifice and the Raising of Revolution
Sacrifice is perhaps the major sacrifice made by Vatican II. Whether in Mass, in morals, or in mortification, moderns in the Church have done away with doing without, given up on giving things up, and put an end to limiting appetites. The worst and most crucial aspect of this loss, however, is the de-emphasis in the Rite of the Mass on the propitiatory and expiatory nature of the Church's main act of worship.
Various elements of current Church practice illustrate this fact. The Communion fast has been reduced to almost non-existence. Abstinence is considered (erroneously) by most Catholics to be optional, and fasting is relegated to a mere two days, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Priests are no longer obliged to celebrate Mass every day. Holy Days of Obligation have been collapsed to Sunday observances, requiring no additional effort by the laity (or clergy for that matter) to acknowledge significant feasts. And within the Mass itself, the very word "sacrifice" is a rarity, rubrics make a minimal demand on a "presider's" attention, and the laity are to be spared any challenges in posture, language, or preaching. "Full, active, and conscious participation by the laity" has come to mean entertainment, convenience, and comfort in thought, word, and deed.
One will look long, hard, and futilely to find justification for this state of affairs in Catholic piety, scriptural admonition, or the example of the saints - not to mention in the life of Christ. Jesus tells us that the Cross, sacrificial love, and rejection of the ways of the world are the signs of contradiction by which His disciples are known. Our modern mania for pain-free living is not an organic growth within Eucharistic theology, but a product best produced by the profits of Madison Avenue. The Kingdom of Heaven is the realm of the poor and the persecuted; avoidance and elimination of personal discipline is the province of those earning their way in the world.
Or to put it another way, the spiritually poor, those admitting an infinite debt and an absolute dependence, can not afford complacence and presumption. The poor will continue to labor until the full debt is retired (cf. Colossians 1:24). Comfort is a luxury only the comfortably self-satisfied can afford. These are they who feel their fullness is already enough, or if more is wanted, more of the same will satisfy. They do not conceive that something radically, inherently, and wholly other is the only real goal appropriate to human being, to the Catholic.
So-called "theology from above" makes an explicit acknowledgement of God's transcendence. This absolute otherness belongs to God regardless of man's original unfallen state, or his sin stemming from the fall to the end of time. There is nothing in man unaided by the divine will capable of approaching God. Because of the fall, man's approach to God in grace is made seeking mercy, forgiveness, and love.
Intent, words, and actions in the Mass reflecting this understanding communicate humility, awe, and solemnity. The Mass itself is an offering on man's behalf effected by Christ crucified, wherein the priest in persona Christi sacrifices to God the Father the only acceptable reparation for sin: the Body and Blood of His Son. God is at the heart of the Mass, willing worship in spirit and truth, receiving due honor and glory, bestowing grace on His children by adoption through the Holy Ghost. The Mass is the source and summit of Catholic identity; God is the source, summit, and center of the Mass.
Everything is dependent on divine initiative. Mercy is not a reaction to sin; it is grace offered that justice can be fulfilled. The Cross is not a response to human need, but the culmination of divine love for His human creatures. The Mass is not an activity for the enrichment of man; rather it is God's will effected that His glory be acknowledged on earth as it is in Heaven.
Because God's mercy satisfies divine justice, man's sin is forgiven. Because God loves, man receives all he needs. Because God wills his creatures by their very nature and being to do all for His glory, the Mass makes possible an acceptable sacrifice by which man gives God His due, receives mercy, shares love, and participates in divine life for a time on earth and forever in Heaven.
"Theology from below" approaches all of these realities in reverse. Man becomes the starting point for salvific acts. Human need and human activity become the motive for divine grace. God gives not because He wants to, but because man is in want.
To understand the dynamic of grace applied this way in the Mass results in lay participation becoming a goal and measure of worship, rather than an element therein. Man becomes object as well as subject. Human activity is both cause and effect.
Hence, the primary question is not, "What does God will?" but "What do I want?" The impact on the Mass is devastating.
"I" in this modern dynamic not just wants certain things, he just wants. He has been conditioned in politics, education, and economics to make demands, demands that no one, not even God, is capable of satisfying, because they are predicated on wanting ever more and ever different things. He wants new things, easy things, unique and fashionable things (an inherent contradiction), changing and changeable things, and more than anything else, his own thing.
Clown Masses, Polka Masses, Rock Masses, Children's Masses, Jazz Masses, Healing Masses, and the most common of all, unattended Masses are the result of this attempt to be all things to all men - without reference to God. An analogy in business is the company that becomes over-diversified. Lacking a core identity, it declines in expertise, it loses contact with its core customers, its marketing focus is blurred, and finally it goes bankrupt and/or liquidates itself to its competitors.
Continuing the analogy, modern Catholics approach their faith in the same way they approach consumption of goods. Corporations make an effort to be all things to all buyers, parishes create a blizzard of activities for each demographic within its membership. Consumers find it impossible to restrict themselves to one product or one kind of product, families shop from parish to parish - and even outside of the Church - to find the "worship experience" that most speaks to them. A consumer mentality of this kind will abandon a product for reasons of pride, boredom, novelty, fashion, or inattention; Catholics leave parishes for the same reasons, or for no reason at all.
A company can change its identity and remain viable in this dynamic. American Telephone and Telegraph no longer telegraphs, has greater interest in cable television than in telephones, and provides services the world over. It is over one-hundred years old, a giant in its fields, and in the midst of making further market transitions and acquisitions.
Although Catholics can change their tastes, the Catholic Church can not change her "product". She has but one gift to offer, neither silver nor gold, but the Name of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, by Whom alone can man be saved. Catholics forget this at their eternal peril.
But amnesia is setting in nonetheless.
Extra ecclesiam nulla salus! languishes in the dustbin that is history. It is a fact that the Church has solemnly proclaimed throughout her history, from Acts 4 through Pius XII, that God wills all men be saved through His Son's Cross, the graces of which are mediated through His Body, the Church. There have been innumerable repetitions of this dogma, with attendant condemnations of those who contradict it.
However, in a world where Coca Cola and Pepsi, Colgate and Crest, McDonald's and Burger King claim intense product loyalty from consumers based on strident assertions that their competitors market an inferior brand, man is admonished that all religions are the same. The same God, the same values, the same anthropological roots addressing the same sociological and psychological needs. It matters how one brushes his teeth, but not how one adorns his soul!
All the world embraced this indifferentism without the inclusion of Catholics until after the Second World War. Then the notion of a "ghetto" Catholicism began to be rejected. The Pope as "prisoner of the Vatican" was deemed behind the times (one should say that the Times - and Newsweek, CNN, and Berkeley - are behind every idea of being timely). And "JFK Catholicism" came into vogue.
"JFK Catholicism" is all about vogue. It is attractive. It is trendy. It is "with it". And it does not at all "interfere with being President of the United States" - or farmer, or teacher, or doctor, or husband, or wife, or even priest.
This is not an American phenomenon. In fact, Americans were slow to embrace it. Italy, for Heaven's sake, had a popular fascist government in the 1920's. Spain fought a bloody civil war in the 1930's, during which the local Church was placed in the peculiar position of supporting the fascists out of necessity. German Catholics (and lutherans) unashamedly and forcibly exported naziism in the 1940's. Cuba was lost to the communists in the 1950's.
Then came Vatican II. After which, divorce, homosexuality, and abortion were codified in almost every country on earth. This is not to blame Vatican II for those atrocities, but Vatican II did enshrine teachings that make it impossible for a strictly Catholic morality to prevail in civil law, for a Catholic understanding of sacrifice to win over the irrational indulgence of every appetite.
Since most religions permit divorce, formerly Catholic countries, in obedience to the "civil right" of religious liberty, had no choice but to legislate for the abandonment of God-given bonds. Most religions see abortion as a moral issue of a "woman's right to choose", rather than an immoral and outrageous attack on God-given life, thus even Ireland no longer stands in the way of child murder. Sexual morality is so depraved the world over that sodomy is commonplace in literature, the press, and school rooms; but Church authorities in no country seek to enforce existing sodomy laws, re-institute those stricken from the books, or reinforce chastity in the spiritual realm by applying sanctions against its violation in the legal sphere.
But "JFK Catholicism" is a handy name for the phenomenon, given the prominence of the man who articulated the position for political gain, the temporal proximity to Vatican II in which it was pronounced, and the affect it had on a large, wealthy, and influential population within the Church. European intellectualism gave prestige and voice to heterodox Catholicism; the American every-man gave money, notoriety, and "normalcy" to the revolution. Madison Avenue sensibilities give form and motivation to its spread in journals, seminars, and parish missions.
The Vatican II revolution was a harvest whose seeds had been sown for generations prior. Its yield would have been disastrous regardless of America's acceptance or rejection. America's acceptance made the revolution's propagation faster, wealthier, and louder. Europe provided the brains of the revolution, the Third World gave it workers, America offered it a big mouth - media, celebrity, and marketing.
It is ironic that so many nations resent the encroachment of American culture on their own, but still embrace the godless materialism on which American culture is built. The only true argument against and the only effective alternative to materialism is Catholicism. People seem to want the goods of capitalism and the good of salvation, without American tactlessness or Catholic faithfulness. Such is doomed to failure - Americans will continue to dominate global economics, and Catholicism is the sole source of sacramental, i.e., salvific, grace.
Regardless of reality, an unholy union of American marketing with heterodox Catholicism is propagated to bring a soulless secularism under the guise of the "renewed" and "relevant" religiosity. This is a wishful-thinking, having-your-cake-and-eating-it-too attempt to receive the goods and the good. In truth, mankind receives neither value nor values from this exchange. A penchant for ever more novelties increases, even as desire for an authentic faith diminishes. Neither man's natural nor his supernatural desires will be satisfied.
In no way can materialism of any kind, be it socialist, communist, or capitalist, be sufficient for human understanding, sense of purpose, or means of salvation. Because of this, materialism can not meet Catholicism as an equal, and frequently must be corrected and even rejected as a form of authentic human expression. "Says who?" modernity protests.
"Glad you asked," says Holy Church, Mother and Teacher.
As a rule, modernity has ceased to ask questions and has become a question. To ask a question implies at the very least that knowledge is possible, and probably probable. Unless one is a modernist. Then questions become a state of being and questioning becomes a way of life, because answers are not to be found - they are to be called into question. Answerers are not to be heeded, they are to be questioned.
Holy Church as Mother and Teacher has answers and is the answerer. Her very being, given by God, is ordered by and to Christ. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. To want answers is to want Jesus. To believe that answers can be found is to believe in Jesus. To be certain that an answer is true is to be confirmed in faith in Jesus.
Yet modernity doubts. It wonders. It wanders. It has lost its way. It is suspicious of claims of truth. It attacks life. Modernity and the Church do not, can not, and should not get along.
Modern man feels he has a right to believe anything, to disbelieve everything, or to place faith in nothing as an inherent right. If, as he insists, truth is elusive and fluid, modern man demands each man's license to pursue any truth, e.g., divorce, sodomy, or abortion. No one, says modernity, can say for everyone what is true, what is good, what is right.
The Magisterium of the Catholic Church condemns this. Truth exists. It is given by God. He has established His Church to be the infallible mediator of His Truth, Jesus Christ. The Magisterium not only knows what is true, not only says what is true, but knows and speaks with authority (not like the scribes and Pharisees, or the philosophers, politicians, and scientists).
Still, modern man does not believe this. He does not seek what the Church offers. He does not accept who the Church says gives her authority. He does not want the grace given by the Church, but the goods he, at whatever time in whatever mood or by whatever measure, deems desirable.
Which brings us back to the Mass. It is not about what the Church gives. It is not even about what God wills. It is about the innumerable, indefinable, insatiable "I's" and their wants, whims, and waywardness.
Where is God in all of this?
Wherever you feel Him, of course. Or not.